When I was a little girl, my parents were sure to take me to church every Sunday, morning and evening. Yes, both, because once a week wasn't enough. One of the only things that made that many hours of sitting in stiff pews bearable was the Candy Man. He had to be in his seventies when I was in lower grade school, to give you an idea of how old he must've been. The Candy Man had a wife, Jane, but we never saw her because she was, as the adults would say, a "shut-in", or someone whose health wasn't good enough for them to come to church.
The Candy Man was a favorite with the kids and even some of the adults because, before and after every church service, he would be waiting in to drop one roll of Smarties and one Tootsie Roll Midgee into each set of waiting hands. The Candy Man walked with a cane for as long as I can remember. His back was arched and his suit coat used to fit him better, you could tell. Maybe the reason it always fell from his torso so poorly was because the pockets were always full of candy for the bright-eyed youngsters who probably didn't need more sugar.
He was dependable in his selection of sweets: Smarties and Tootsie Rolls. If you got lucky, you might get a starlight mint, too. If you were really lucky, you'd get one of those oval caramel things with the powdery-sugar center in the super-crinkly wrappers. You know, those things. All you had to do was hold out your hands. You didn't have to ask, and often we didn't. After the treasure dropped into our hands, we'd dart away in excitement, not remembering our manners to thank him for his continual generosity.
One day, after I was too old for his candy, they said the Candy Man's wife died. Never having seen her, it was hard to miss her, but it seemed the Candy Man moved a little slower after that. His pockets were still full of candy and he still remembered all of our names, even though we'd graduated from our candy-getting routine. He stooped lower and his gaze was farther away than usual. The Candy Man had lost his Sweetness.
I don't remember how old I was when the Candy Man himself passed away, but I'll never forget the man who so selflessly offered treats to my friends and I. Just today, in the breakroom of my big-girl job, I discovered one of those oval caramel things with the powdery-sugar centers in the super-crinkly wrappers. Instantly, I was little again, my hands held high, hoping for some extra sweetness, offering the Candy Man my smile in return before rushing off to devour the spoils.
Sometimes I think I learned more from one old man's generosity that I did from all those hours spent in the pews of church, and I've been wishing, ever since that candy break at work, that I'd said, "Thank you," more often and maybe even thought to give the Candy Man a hug. I realize I feel that way every time I eat Smarties, a Tootsie Roll, or a starlight mint, too. I hope he knew how appreciative we were, even in our childish ignorance, and maybe that's why he kept handing out treats after his wife was gone.
Thanks, Mr. M.